Ford Exploring 3D Printing for Parts

Ford becomes one of the first automakers to work on using 3D printing to create automotive parts.

Timothy Healey
    Mar 07, 2017 3:15 PM  PT
Ford Exploring 3D Printing for Parts
author: Timothy Healey    

Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker Ford is working with Stratasys on large-scale 3D-printed auto parts.

If the company's research and development efforts bear fruit, it could change how automotive parts are manufactured.

Stratasys produces the Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator, which is used to make large, customizable tools, along with production parts, that are designed to be accurate, reliable, and quick to use.

"Capable of printing automotive parts of practically any shape or length, the Stratasys Infinite Build system could be a breakthrough for vehicle manufacturing – providing a more efficient, affordable way to create tooling, prototype parts and components for low-volume vehicles such as Ford Performance products, as well as personalized car parts," a press release said.

Ford is the first automotive original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to use the Infinite-Build. It's being kept at the company's Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn.

"With Infinite Build technology, we can print large tools, fixtures and components, making us more nimble in design iterations," Ellen Lee, Ford's technical leader of additive manufacturing research, said in the same press release. "We're excited to have early access to Stratasys' new technology to help steer development of large-scale printing for automotive applications and requirements."

If automakers can make 3D printing for auto parts become a reality, there will be several benefits. Lighter components will increase performance and fuel economy – depending on the part, a 3D-printed part may weigh less than half of a metal part.

Three-dimensional printing also allows for greater customization of parts and better cost efficiency when applied to low-volume parts, such as those used for prototypes, low-volume sports cars, and race cars. A 3D-printed part could be built in days, instead of the months it might take to produce a prototype part the traditional way.

"Working with Ford, we've helped tap into some of the most complex requirements the automotive industry is facing," Jim Vurpillat, director of automotive and aerospace at Stratasys, said to TechRepublic. "More specifically, the creation of large and lightweight parts with repeatable mechanical properties. Moving forward, we'll continue to collaborate with Ford and accelerate new automotive product design through the power of 3D printing. These are innovations that were previously not possible due to size and design limitations."

The Infinite-Build 3D was released in August of last year. It allows for building on a vertical plane and operates at 10 times the speed previously possible. Stratasys first mentioned Ford's exploration of the device in August of last year, and Daihatsu, a subsidiary of Toyota, will also be working with Stratasys on using 3D printing for custom car parts.